Archive for the 'FeedEachOther' Category

Another boring personalized news service

I love seeing more and more copycat “intelligent” personalized news sites. The good news is that means that there are funders out there who still know in their gut that there’s money to be made on innovation in the news business. They just need the one idea that will stick. And go pop.

Meantime, more than a six months ago, Mike Arrington wrote about a site called Thoof. Back then, I was also writing and thinking about Streamy and FeedEachOther and other unmemorable twists on feed readers and personalized news sites. No matter their differences, they all seem the same. I just came across yet another—Tiinker—and I just can’t bear it any more.

In his write-up of Thoof, Arrington frames the debate as taking place between two competing positions. He believes that “the masses want popular news,” while the Thoof’s CEO believes that “the masses want tailored news.”

I think they’re both wrong and come at the issue the wrong way.

People want their news based on others’ interests—specialized news from friends (those who have similar interests) and widely popular news from the masses (everyone else). And they want their news based on their own interests, even if their friends don’t share those interests.

Now suppose there’s a continuum of users—from RegularJoe on one end to PowerUser on the other.

RegularJoe wants his news from other people. Although he has relatively few “friends” online, and is thinly connected to the ones he has, he wants them to put in most of the effort to help him get specialized news. (He likes read the “Most Emailed” news articles but doesn’t email them, or he likes visiting Digg but doesn’t log in and vote.) RegularJoe is mostly interested in widely popular news.

PowerUser is different and wants his news mostly based on his own interests. But it would be a mistake to think that he pursues his interests alone (no man is an island, says Donne). He has relatively many friends and enjoys pushing and pulling mutually interesting news to and from them. Of course, PowerUser also has news interests that his friends don’t share or don’t share as strongly, and so he pursue his news independently from his friends as well. Because he enjoys consuming a lot of information, moreover, PowerUser is also interested in widely popular news (he wants to keep his finger to the pulse).

These purely black-box algorithmic personalized news sites don’t really fit either guy.

RegularJoe: They’re too hardcore for RegularJoe. He doesn’t want his own news because his interests just aren’t sufficiently deeply cultivated. RegularJoe isn’t motivated enough to build up a profile by clicking “thumbs up” all the time (as tiinker would have him). When he is motivated enough, he isn’t sufficiently consistent over time for these fancy algorithms to get him what he wants before he strays back to cnn.com because it’s easier to let someone else decide (a person-editor, in this case).

PowerUser: They’re too secret for PowerUser. He wants to put in more effort cultivating his interests and doesn’t want to trust an (anti-social) algorithm from some start-up that might disappear tomorrow. PowerUser also wants to get specialized news from niche groups of friends. For him, the fact that friends X, Y, and Z read some blog post makes it inherently more interesting because they can have a conversation about it (broadly speaking). The personalized news sites just aren’t sufficiently social for the PowerUser who wants to interact with friends around the news.

This isn’t meant to be a slam-dunk argument. I’m not sure about what happens with the group of users who are in the hypothetical middle of the continuum. Maybe there’s some number of users (1) who care enough about the news to have non-trivial interests that don’t shift or fade over time but (2) who also don’t care very much for a transparent or social experience of the news. Ultimately, however, I really doubt that this group of users is big enough to support this kind of personalized news site.

If you got excited about Streamy…

…then you should check out FeedEachOther. That’s what Marshall Kilpatrick of R/WW says. If you were let down with Streamy, on the other hand, it looks like you will also be let down by FeedEachOther.

What’s the bummer? These “feature-rich super-social RSS readers” just aren’t that feature-rich or social. They’re just not so different from Google Reader. They’re still RSS readers.

But first the good news. The thing pulls comments from the original blog into the reader. That’s awesome. Multiple kinds of relationship are good too.

I don’t want to subscribe to “similar” feeds according to some recommendation that’s a huge black box. In fact, it doesn’t really even work, and its black-boxiness prevents me from knowing why. Why, for instance, does FeedEachOther only give me recommendation based on the whole feed? Why not on each post? Whole feeds contains posts way too diverse to derive sufficiently sufficient semantic patterns from them.

It’s not okay to look at all of Jeff Jarvis’s feed and offer me this string of banal tags: “advertizing – buzz – internet – news – technology – blogs – daily – marketing – politics – web – blog – commentary – jarvis – online – trends – business – imported – media – tech – web2.0 – blogging – culture – journalism – opinion – tv.” Setting aside the problem of blogs-blog-blogging, it’s not okay because they’re so generic and because I can’t stack them up and take their intersections. I can’s use these tags the way the people who created them use them. When someone in delicious tags something “journalism,” they might also tag it “trends.” Neither topic is interesting alone; only together are they interesting. (Indeed, ‘trends in journalism’ is very interesting.)

Plus! On top of reading each post’s comments with a feed, I can share notes and items within the system. But wait! “The only thing better” would be to post comments from the web app to the original post? Actually, that’s a lot better. That’s worlds and worlds better. A web app is still just a basic RSS reader until it can weave itself into the same cloth of which the many, many thousands of blogs with their comments are made.

So, no, “the absence of offline and mobile modes, weaker analytics than Google Reader offers and a limit of 500 feeds by OPML import” are not the “only shortcomings.” Someone’s seriously drinking the RSS Reader Kool-Aid. And that’s too bad—because RSS itself is so many times greater and more magnificent.

In the end, Google Reader, Streamy, and FeedEachOther are bastions of only ONE component of networked news. They allow readers to network the news by publisher. Sure, they do more than dabble in allowing readers to network by fellow readers. There’s got to be more though—comments from reader to blog would be a big step. Lastly, both Streamy and FeedEachOther just don’t have the necessary kind of semantic (or “Semantic”) insight into their content yet. The three components of networked news must be as one for any to be truly worthwhile.

When will my news platform serve me up content that’s from my favorite author and recommended by my good buddy and about my favorite subject or story or beat? When that happens, we’ll not only all be reading our own really interesting stuff—we’ll care enough about it to get into even more interesting conversations.


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